When umpire Mike Winters tossed Orlando Hernandez from Saturday’s Mets game for nicking Nationals pitcher Shawn Hill on the hand — although absolutely nobody except Winters, including Hill and his manager Manny Acta, believed that El Duque had done so on purpose — it marked a brand-new smelly low in power-tripping by the Men (and thus far only Men) in Blue. Of course, we can all fantasize that had it been one of us behind the plate, we would have been wiser, fairer, saner. But let’s be real. Do wise, fair, sane humans actually want this job?

Back in 1886, back when “pro” baseball was still recovering from its humble American roots as the provenance of rival “volunteer fire departments” (read: city gangs), the Chicago Tribune published a charming poem entitled, “Mother, May I Slug the Umpire?” The first verse went like this:

Mother, may I slug the umpire
May I slug him right away
So he cannot be here, Mother
When the clubs begin to play?

You get the idea. Back then, ballplayers were considered a lowly bunch, paid little if anything to ply their trade, and umpires ranked perhaps slightly lower than that in the eyes of the public — if early baseball players were, quite literally, arsonists, then imagine how little respect one had to command to actually referee contests involving these arson squads (and we’re not just talking about their bullpens, either).

Nowadays, of course, MLB players earn an average of nearly three million dollars a year, and many earn much, much more. According to this article on MLB.com (see bottom of page), MLB umpires make between $84,000 and $300,000 per annum. In other words, your average ballplayer — not an A-Rod-level megastar — can buy and sell 20 umpires. That probably wasn’t true even 30 years ago. This has undoubtedly made our refs more than a little testy.

On the Mets broadcast Saturday the announcers noted, after Carlos Beltran argued a called strike three with Winters, that doing so would cost Beltran an automatic $100 fine. Beltran averages about $15 million a year. A hundred dollars to him is the equivalent of two dollars to the highest-paid umpire — who still makes a few bowlfuls of Romaine more than most of us yeehaws watching.

How much do you think Mike Winters would care about a $2 fine for making the jawdropping call of the young century? Probably not much, and he probably doesn’t make $300K either. In his wormy little umpbrain — or umpy little wormbrain — he’s probably thinking, “Screw Carlos Beltran, screw the Mets, screw the whole overpaid bunch of ‘em. I may be an umpy little umpity ump ump, but my actions can still mean something.” Thus, the hair-trigger thumb and the ensuing garment-rending.

Did Winters’ actions cost the Mets the game? No. Plainly El Duque didn’t have it — he gave up three home runs in five innings to the mandolin-swinging Nationals, two of them in the same inning in which he plunked grazed Hill — and the Mets’ bats were still in hibernation in that day-game-after-a-night-game fashion in which they are often caught snoozing, so it’s likely they’d have lost anyway.

But you had to wonder what this would portend for the future of the game. Is every pitcher having a bad game who hits someone now going to get an automatic thumb? Is every inside pitch now going to be suspect? I’m not a big fan of headhunting, but for the luvva Choo Choo, El Duque wasn’t anywhere near Shawn Hill’s noggin. Is every hitter now going to be permitted to hang out over the plate like a crack dealer leaning on a streetlamp? Now there’s a great way to keep the fans and their fannies coming back! 10-9 scores all around!

I have to tell you, though — umpires are the one form of on-field personnel I have never envied even for a moment. Sure, it pays well, and you’d have a hard time losing your job even if you were completely incompetent (Google “Angel Hernandez sucks” sometime if you don’t believe me). But imagine a job in which people hate your guts even if you’re good. Maybe especially if you’re good. Imagine needing a dozen snarling Dobermans just to escort you to the private underground tunnel you need to get into your car, which you automatically know to check for signs of a bomb before you turn the ignition key — and all because you made the right call, which pissed 56,000 people off no end (and that doesn’t even count the people watching and listening elsewhere). No thanks.

So when I hear about a woman on the pro umpiring track, like Ria Cortesio, who umpired at some spring training games this year, I have to admire her guts. If people say nasty things to male umpires, just imagine the abuse she must get. A woman pursuing this line of work is on no mere power trip — she must be in complete control of herself mentally and emotionally just to show up. Perhaps someday she will take Mike Winters’ job, and she will bring to it the kind of well-reasoned decency and understanding needed to make intelligent, constructive, game-facilitating calls.

At this point, though, I’ll settle for her not being a dumbass spermbrain.